Pope Francis names delegate to oversee pilgrims at Lourdes shrine

Our Lady of Lourdes grotto Lourdes France Credit Elise Harris CNA Our Lady of Lourdes grotto, Lourdes, France. | Elise Harris/CNA

Pope Francis has appointed a special delegate to oversee the pastoral care of pilgrims and other management at the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

Pope Francis named Bishop Antoine Hérouard, 62, auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Lille, France, a delegate "ad nutum Sanctae Sedis," meaning "at the disposition of the Holy See."

According to an editorial by Andrea Tornielli in Vatican News, the position is intended to be for a temporary, though unspecified, period.

The announcement of Hérouard's appointment was made at the French shrine by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, which has been charged with overseeing Catholic shrines since 2017.

Fisichella read aloud a letter sent by Pope Francis for the occasion. The letter noted that Fisichella had been sent to the shrine "as a special envoy" in recent months, and following his assessment, the pope desired "to understand what further form the Sanctuary of Lourdes might adopt, beyond the many already in place, in order to become ever more a place of prayer and of Christian witness corresponding to the needs of the People of God."

The shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France is the site where young Bernadette Soubirous witnessed Marian apparitions beginning on Feb. 11, 1858. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for individuals with special devotions to Mary and for those seeking healing from a variety of ailments. Many miraculous cures have been associated with the site. It is estimated to have between 1 and 3 million visitors a year.

Typically, the shrine falls under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, which is Bishop Nicolas Brouwet, 56. According to French news site, Le Figaro, Brouwet said in a statement June 6 that the appointment of a delegate "is a testimony of the pope's interest in our sanctuary."

"This help is welcome to help us better structure our internal organization and to make us more and more at the service of the pilgrims. During his tenure at the shrine, Bishop Hérouard will preside over the Lourdes Council and make all the decisions that seem appropriate for the life of the sanctuary," the bishop said.

Le Figaro reported that the shrine employs around 330 people. Lourdes has seen around a 34% decline in diocesan pilgrimages in the last decade, though there has been about a 12% increase in individual or family pilgrimages.

Until 2018, the shrine had also been running a budgetary deficit for about a decade. However, on April 8 officials announced the shrine ended the 2018 fiscal year with a surplus of 200,000 euros ($225,000) after the 2013 hiring of a former HR director to help get the shrine out of debt.

Le Figaro reported that the shrine overcame the deficit by cutting operating costs, increasing the sale of candles, and a slight increase in the contribution asked from organized pilgrimages.

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